BUENA VISTA NEIGHBORHOOD
EARLY SAN JOSE
For thousands of years before the arrival of European settlers, what is now San Jose was inhabited by several groups of Ohlone Native Americans. Whatever structures they built were undoubtedly built near the Guadalupe River, the area’s source of fresh water.
El Pueblo de San José de Guadalupe (The Town of Saint Joseph from Guadalupe) was founded by José Joaquin Moraga on November 29, 1777. It was the first settlement not associated with a mission or a military post in the Spanish colony of Nueva California, which later became Alta California.
The town was founded by colonists led to California by Juan Bautista de Anza, as a farming community to provide food for the presidios of San Francisco and Monterey. In 1778, the pueblo had a population of 68. In 1797, the pueblo was moved from its original location, near the present-day intersection of Guadalupe Parkway and Taylor Street, to a location in what is now Downtown San Jose.
RANCHO DE LOS COCHES
In 1844 Governor Manuel Micheltorena granted Rancho de Los Coches to Roberto Balermino, a Santa Clara Mission Indian who had permission to occupy it since 1836. His 2,219.35 acre rancho was bounded by The Alameda on the north and west and by Los Gatos Creek on the east, and it was called Rancho de Los Coches. In modern Spanish "coches" means "cars" or "coaches" but in those days it was a word for "pigs." Roberto lived on the land for about a decade in a small adobe house a few hundred yards from Los Gatos Creek.
In 1847, Balermino sold it to Antonio Sunol, an American settler. Sunol later subdivided his land into thirds. In the 1860s, one such parcel (739 acres) was sold to Captain Henry Morris Naglee which included the area we now know as the Buena Vista neighborhood.
You can still see Roberto Balermino’s adobe home at 770 Lincoln Avenue, just south of where Highway 280 crosses Lincoln.
When Sunol bought the home from Balermino he named it ''Laura Ville” and you can still see the sign on the property, now used as a law office.
The name "Los Coches" lives on in the name of a short street just south of West San Carlos where it crosses Highway 17. Sunol gave his name to Sunol Street which runs parallel to and east of Lincoln Avenue.
At that time, the City of San Jose was centered in the area east of the Guadalupe River, with roads such as The Alameda extending toward Santa Clara and Steven’s Creek Road extending westward along what is now West San Carlos Street.
Most of the people who purchased land in those days either had future plans to use it for agriculture or had plantings of fruit trees. Popular choices included prune, plum, apricot, peach, pear, cherry and walnut trees.
HOUSING IN THE EARLY 1900s
In 1904, soon after the rails were laid for the San Jose-Los Gatos Interurban Railroad (affectionately called “Toonerville Trolleys”) along what is now West San Carlos, developers laid plans for the first residential tracts. “Interurban Park” was on the north side and Rose Lawn Park on the south side of the trolley tracks. These two tracts are now the Burbank neighborhood.
Most of the streets we now know as the Buena Vista neighborhood (Maylellen, Menker, Richmond and Porter - now called Leigh) were part of the “Orchard Park” subdivision. Buena Vista Avenue was the only street in what was known as the “Zuver Subdivision.” “Maypark Half Acres” extended east and included Willard and Page. See map of 1927 subdivisions. The lots sold for $100-$275 each, with the last lots being sold in 1921.
There were no houses south of Scott Street. Scott Street itself was segmented and would connect a few blocks, stop, connect a few more blocks, and stop again.
The early homes in the Burbank and Buena Vista neighborhoods were single-family homes with one story and one or two bedrooms. They had indoor plumbing, but were on septic tanks. Many houses had basements because they had wood-burning furnaces which were installed there. There were a few carriage houses and barns for horses.
By 1925, houses had garages as more residents bought cars. They were single-car garages, and built at the back of the lot, like the horse barns and carriage houses before them. View more typical houses
Many families moved to the area because they did not want to live in the city limits. Many of them were making the transition from farm life and wanted to keep a cow, a few chickens, or a goat – which was not allowed in the city limits.
The lots were narrow but very deep, to allow for a vegetable garden, and to leave room for a cow barn or a chicken coop or goat pen far enough in the back to keep the smell of the animals out of the house.
In addition to residences, there were several small business located in the neighborhood, including a hand laundry on Richmond Avenue, Gold's Rug Works on Mayellen, and poultry farms on Douglas, Page, and Willard.
Wells were used for water until the San Jose Water Company came into the area in 1940.
The roads were still on a bed of dirt and gravel and there were no paved sidewalks, curbs or gutters unless an individual owner installed them. Horse-drawn water wagons would drive up and down the streets during the hot summer days to wet down the dusty dirt streets.
What is now West San Carlos was a dirt road with two lanes on the north for cars and two lanes on the south for the yellow Interurban street cars.
During the late twenties and into the Depression, affordable housing became an issue. Some developers created a very popular solution – small units surrounding a court. Owners could live in one unit and rent out the rest. There are several of these courts in the Burbank and Buena Vista neighborhoods: 24-26 Brooklyn Avenue, 12 Boston Avenue, 324-342 Buena Vista Avenue, 450 Page Street, and 50-58 Topeka Avenue.
THE EARLY ECONOMY
At the turn of the century, the economy of the Santa Clara Valley centered around agriculture – the growing, picking, drying, canning and selling of the fruit and nuts crops. There were walnut orchards along San Jose-Los Gatos Road (now Bascom Avenue), along with pear orchards and cherry orchards. Prune and apricot orchards bordered Moorpark Avenue. A peach orchard surrounded the property on West San Carlos where the DiFiores built their cannery. Many residents worked in the DiFiore Canning Company, built in 1913, as it was within walking distance of their homes. Others had jobs at Contadina, U.S. Products, and Richmond Chase, all accessible by taking a local street car.
The lumber and planing mill employed many residents as well at such companies as Pacific Manufacturing Mills, Chase Lumber Company, Cheim Lumber, and Mission City Lumber.
Some people worked at the County Hospital on San Jose-Los Gatos Road (now Bascom Avenue). O'Connor Hospital had opened in 1889 and was the first hospital in Santa Clara County. The original O'Connor Sanitarium, as it was called, was located at the corners of Race Street and what is now West San Carlos and also employed local residents.
An interesting note about the DiFiore Canning Company: it was built in 1913, and burned to the ground in 1915. It was re-built and back in operation in three weeks, this time built of brick and larger than the former plant. It employed over 200 workers.
The DiFiore Canning Company closed its doors in 1940 and the building and surrounding yards sat unused for over a decade. The San Jose Mercury-News had an article in April 1950 that give the details of the “old brick cannery building to be torn down on the 30 acre DiFiore Cannery property on West San Carlos....” The property was to be divided into 68 residential lots. The developer was stated as saying, “San Jose is entitled to a shopping center along Wilshire Blvd. lines.” All that remains now is a short street in the Sherman Oaks neighborhood, just south of San Jose City College that is named DiFiore Drive.
THE ORCHARDS DISAPPEAR - 1930-1960
In the late 1930s the street cars gave way to automobiles and the more flexible bus lines. The trolley rails were removed from West San Carlos and sold for scrap metal.
In the mid 1950s, the streets in the area were renumbered. For example, 52 S. Menker Avenue became 478 S. Menker Avenue.
Orchards were subdivided and/or sold outright and the area south of Scott Street was gradually developed with streets and houses. A walk through our neighborhood streets tells this story in the architecture of these homes. The homes on the north side of Scott are 30-40 years older than the homes on the south side of Scott Street. See maps.
It is interesting that the homes in the new section mimicked the small bungalows in the older section. They lacked some of the detailing and use of wood for moldings, wainscotting, brackets, window and door frames, but they kept the simplicity. The basements were eliminated as well as the fireplaces in most of these later homes. They had one-car garages, but they were no longer in the back of the lot but were adjacent to the house, usually connected to the kitchen. Brick and stucco replaced the wood framing of the early bungalows.
The last orchards in the Buena Vista neighborhood became several large apartment complexes at the southern end of Menker, Mayellen, Buena Vista, Willard and Page Avenues.
In 1946, Lou’s Village opened on Steven Creek Road where it would serve seafood to locals along with visiting celebrities for 55+ years until its closing in December of 2005. It boasted banquet facilities where many local groups held their meetings, as well as the popular restaurant. The site was leveled and in 2007-2008 became a housing development.
Another popular spot was The Fiesta Lanes Bowling Alley. Built in 1957, it was the largest bowling alley in the area at the time of
construction. The building was a reinforced concrete tilt up structure and originally included a drive-in restaurant
in the southeast corner of the building. That structure met the same fate as Lou's Village, and a housing project will also built on that site.
In 1953 the San Jose School District operated the San Jose Technical High School and moved the school from its original location in downtown San Jose to the site of San Jose City College south of Moorpark Avenue. The name was officially changed to San Jose Junior College in 1958, and later to San Jose City College.
O’Connor Hospital moved from the corner of Race Street and Stevens Creek Road to its present location on Forest Avenue in 1953. A Sears-Roebuck store was built on the land and served the local population for the next 25 years. Following the closing of the store and several years where the store sat unused, it was torn down and replaced in the 1990s with the Mid-Town Safeway.
1970's AND HIGHWAY 280
Highway 280 had been pencilled into maps as early as the mid-1960s. Sections of the highway had already been completed to the west. In the late 1960s four or five houses north of Moorpark on each of the streets were removed to make way for the proposed freeway. See aerial photos.
At the time Highway 280 was completed, an overcrossing was built that extended from Porter Avenue across property that once belonged to San Jose City College. That street was connected to Leigh Avenue coming up from the south across Southwest Expressway, and was renamed. You can still see the old name "PORTER AVE." stamped into the concrete curbs on the south side of Scott at its intersection with Leigh Avenue.
On the entertainment scene, the Saddle Rack opened in 1976 on six and a half acres on Auzerais between Meridian Avenue and Race Street. It was the hot spot for Country-Western music fans. It sported four dance floors, live bands, mechanical bulls, and line dancing. In October 2000 the owner sold the property to KB Homes and The Saddle Rack closed its doors in 2001. All that remains is Saddle Rack Street. [Although Saddle Rack got the street named after it, there was another business on the site for many years before: The Sveden House "all-you-can-eat" Smorgasbord Restaurant! ]
The housing situation in the Buena Vista neighborhood took another turn: in-filling. The deep lots lost their appeal as space for a garden and farm animals, and "granny units" began to sprout in back yards that once held fruit trees. Some owners added one additional small home, while others opted for a string of small one-bedrom apartments in a low-slung unit behind the main house. In other situations, all the structures on a property or adjacent properties were removed in order to build an apartment or condominium complex.
The streets that were originally designed for foot traffic, bicycles, and an occasional horse-drawn carriage, now are barely wide enough for on-street parking and simultaneous two-way traffic by today's automobiles. As a result, some streets such as Buena Vista Avenue and Leigh Avenue resorted to allowing parking on only one side of the street. The in-filling mentioned above brought even more cars into the area and parking became a neighborhood concern.
The neighborhood realized the impact that the absence of recreation facilities and local parks was having on the residents and their children. One solution was to set aside small lot at the corner of Scott and Menker as a "pocket park." Buena Vista Park became a reality in the spring of 2004. Ten years later, in 2014, the park was doubled in size by annexing the adjacent residential lot to the east. As of 2017, the Buena Vista Neighborhood Association is working to build another small park in the area, possibly on Chiechi Drive.
The Buena Vista Neighborhood Association is committed to preserving and improving the quality of life in this wonderful part of San Jose, filled with classic homes as well as modern townhouses, and tree-lined streets with the feel of a small town rather than a suburb. We cherish and honor the history of the Buena Vista Neighborhood and believe it will continue to be a place we can be proud of.